My dear President-elect, with the election behind you and your emergence as the President Elect of Nigeria, please listen to these words that I speak as you ready yourself to form your cabinet and tackle the daunting multiple challenges facing Nigeria. Before anything else, please reach out to your predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, and the PDP in a very public way to assuage their fears and ask for their assistance and support as you go about the business of setting up shop in Aso Rock.
Foremost, remember you are now the first “Nigerian” happens to be a Muslim. You should no longer regard yourself as simply a Northerner, an Hausa-Fulani, or a general. You are indeed a Nigerian and the Number 1 Citizen of the country. Just as the disciples of Jesus forsook their relatives and followed Jesus, you must forsake yours to lead Nigeria. We know where you come from, who your friends are, what faith you profess, but all that has to be kept aside until you become a regular citizen again.
To effectively govern a diverse nation such as Nigeria, you must be a Nigerian every day. As the country’s president, you must separate Buhari the campaigner from Buhari the President and remain impartial and fair when it comes to matters of religion and ethnicity in this country.
As you prepare to take over the reins from Mr. Jonathan, please note that there are several low hanging fruits that you need to pluck right away. Nigerians have very short attention span but long memories. To keep their attention, you must take positive steps and make things happen right away. Many Nigerians often practice the policy of “sidon dey look.” They will simply wait and watch. If you fail to live up to their expectations, within the first 30 to 60 days in office, they will write you off and return to business as usual.
That’s why you must hit the trail running even as you put together your cabinet. Your cabinet appointees should come into a system that is already set and complete with expectation, ready to roll in one particular direction. That tone is yours to set. As your transition team is working on setting up your government apparatus, you should be busy setting goals, objectives and expectations for all who will become part of your administration.
You must be quick to address small issues right away. You talked about autonomy for certain federal government departments, make it happen within the first 30 days. You do not need a cabinet to make that declaration and work out the details later.
You talked about decentralizing the police. Please set up a parallel group to begin a feasibility study on that too. I said “feasibility” not probability. Let them work in tandem with your transition team. Be a man of action – and then you got our attention!
As the accolades and grand congratulatory messages pour in, reaffirm and declare your war on corruption now. You are expected to be the no-corruption President. You cannot compromise on this. Within weeks of taking over the reins, you need to come out with your blueprint for fighting corruption. But be careful, my President, for this is a double-edged sword! Push too hard, some of us will accuse you of being on a witch hunt. If you fail to push hard enough some will call you weak and old and go about our corrupt ways. Yes we will dismiss you as a nonstarter.
Remember, your transition team is watching your every pronouncement and body language. If you appear to be serious, your transition team will give you serious people, if you appear weak, they will surround you with their own men and manipulate you just as your predecessor was.
You must be strategic and deliberate with your cabinet appointments. Make sure every region is represented in your cabinet and as much as possible use population distribution as a guide. Please fill your cabinet with competent and ethical people. Because someone has a PhD does not mean he or she can be an asset to you. Hire to your weaknesses only – don’t give into pressure from those who helped you win this election. Impact upon them your vision, mission and objectives. If they have someone who fits that mold, then you are game. Always surround yourself with people who will be truthful and loyal to you. Don’t be the Emperor with no clothes.
Once you have your cabinet, use the 30-60-90 principle as a guide to set specific goals for yourself and your cabinet appointment. This means that they must achieve certain objectives within 30, 60, or 90 days of taking over their various portfolios. These goals should be tangible, quantifiable and measurable. And if they fail, be firm but fair with passing judgment. Plan on holding regular conversations with Nigerians during which you must articulate to us your successes and failures. Yes I said failures because we need a nation builder and not a politician. We need a trailblazer and not an administrator, and trailblazers do not always get it right.
Be different from the rest by being open and honest with Nigerians especially the press. When you fail, admit it, but provide solutions. Yes, some will call you names, but you will get the benefit of the doubt. You must not attack Nigerians; the campaign is over, and this is our time and the time for nation building.
As president, please fight for the separation of Church and State. This is basic to democracy. The church cannot influence the state and neither should the state try to influence the church. This is not going to be easy given that we have intertwined our identities with our religion. However, if you do not tackle this phenomenon, it will consume Nigeria just as corruption has done. Whereas corruption robs us of our ability to actualize our goals, religion could lead to war and killings. History tells us so! See what is going on in your backyard today!
Remind fellow Nigerians not to walk away from their responsibilities. The campaign is over, but the work just began. Nigerians and our new president have a shared responsibility to see our country succeed. This is not the time to look for handouts; this is the time to rebuild this nation. As John F. Kennedy said, seek not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. All Nigerians should be a part of the solution. Let’s start by fixing our local government, our village, our town. Politics, as they say, begins at home.
We should hold our leaders accountable. If they don’t perform, let them know it. There is no joy in driving a Mercedes on bad roads. Nigerians should be very vocal at the local level. Collectively our voices will be heard all around nation and the world. Sabotage will not help anyone – you never bite your nose to spite your face. Be a part of the solution and not the problem.
Strive to be independent and not depend on the government for everything in life. You and I are the government too and must take responsibility for our government by our actions. Contribute and then guard your contributions. There is nothing like the national pie – there is only your pie and you must guide it or go hungry. Governance should never be based on ethnic or religious sentiments but should be rooted in ideological ideals for which I know each and every one of us holds certain views.
Religion has no place in government and should never be. We should be talking about and discussing how best to stimulate our economy, create jobs for our teaming youth, take care of our aging population, reduce infant mortality. What God or gods we choose to worship is a purely personal choice and has no place in the grand scheme of politics.
With this new lease on life we must take charge of our destiny. If your senator is not performing, hold him/her accountable. If your governor is not performing, exercise your right to vote and send him packing. Nigeria as a species will go extinct if we continue to nurture this “live and let die” political mantra. If individually we contribute our little mite, Nigeria will become mighty!
To my people of the press – to whom much is given, much is expected. You are a critical part of building this mighty nation. Report credibly and not lend yourselves to sensationalism. You must continue to remind us of our roles and how best to play the part. Scream as loud as you could whenever we are not performing well – but give credit where credit is due. Nigeria and the world are full good deeds that are left unreported and unnoticed due to our pursuit of more sensational and tantalizing stories. Do not forget, “an overdone strength is a weakness,” as my career counselor used to tell me. Make sure your reporting is balanced at all times.
Be our eyes and ears everywhere! Be vigilant and alert! Let us know whenever you think we are abdicating our responsibilities or going about our business as if government and governing is someone else’s responsibilities. Provide us with a forum or forums to express our sentiments regardless of quality. Perception, they say, is real to the perceiver. Strive to be independent and when you have a slant on your commentary, be clear about it and let us know. We will respect you for that.
Bring to our attention any areas of neglect by both the government and/or the citizens of this great country. Instill in us the mindset that we are the greatest nation in the world and that all we need to do to actualize is by making a commitment. Bring forth for discussion all areas that make up the affairs of this country not just politics, political antics and jingoism. Make us discuss commerce, education, sports, community service, elderly care, infant care and mortality and the list goes on. There are so many opportunities available to us in that country that if we devoted enough time to those opportunities, unemployment will be on its way out.
Shape our national dialogue away from religion, ethnic prejudice and regionalism, but unite us around common goals and shared bonds. Because the British split us the way they did does not mean we cannot come together as One Nation with One Destiny.
With this election, we have been given a new lease on life and what we do with that lease on life will shape the future of our country for the good or for bad. This election, in one swoop, has demystified a lot of tall tales that have kept us down as a nation; tales about infallible political demigods, the untouchable fat cats who hold the knife and the yam and are way beyond our reach and reproach. However, with this election we now know that nothing is stronger than the “Will of the people.” The same will that created Sparta and the Spartans, the Roman Empire, the British Empire and today the United States of America. The same will and belief that led to the successes in Japan, China, Taiwan and Singapore. The same will that is fueling tremendous successes in India, that led to the Arab Spring and the successes of our neighbor Ghana. Yes, this election has opened our eyes and we have seen that power belongs to the people. Or have we? Only time will tell!
It is now up to us to take this newfound authority and use it to propel our country forward and do it in a selfless manner. The time is now and the opportunities are all ours. It is all about our country! It is all about our future!
Mr. Odimgbe wrote from Atlanta, Georgia